Albania shares borders with Montenegro to the north, Kosovo to the northeast, Macedonia to the east, and Greece to the southeast. To the west and southwest lie the Adriatic and Ionian Seas respectively. Italy, Albania’s nearest western neighbor, lies about 50 miles across the Strait of Otranto.
Albania itself stretches about 210 miles from its northernmost point bordering Montenegro to its southern tip along the Ionian Sea. Albania’s westernmost point along the Adriatic Sea to its border with Greece extends about 95 miles. All in all, Albania has a total area of about 11,082 sq. miles.
THE PROKLETIJE, THE DINARIC ALPS AND THE SOUTHERN ALBANIAN HIGHLANDS
About three-fourths of the land in between the Prokletije, the Dinaric Alps, and the Southern Albanian Highlands borders mountains or foothills with elevations of at least 650 feet above sea level. Most of this land is an extension of the Dinaric Alps to the north.
The Dinaric Alps makeup the northernmost side of the country—a rugged, forested and sparsely populated land compared to the country’s southerly regions. This region is almost completely unnavigable due to the steep gorges and canyons resulting from the region’s winding rivers. There are few roads and those that exist are of poor quality. The lack of roads makes both internal and external communications impossibly difficult.
The Highlands lie in the easternmost portion of these mountains, near the border with Macedonia. Here, you may find Mount Korab, Albania’s highest peak, which rises to about 9,030 feet above sea level. This area, along with the Prokletije, is possibly the most rugged and inaccessible region in all of the Balkan Peninsula. Serpentinite minerals and limestone dominate this region’s geology.
The Southern Albanian Highlands lie in the less rugged, more densely populated sections of the Dinaric Alp's southern and western ranges. This section serves primarily as pasture for livestock. Limestone is once again the predominant mineral and is responsible for the formation of the valleys here. However, a blend of softer rocks accounts for the wider valleys instead of the sharp cliffs found in the north.
COASTAL AND CENTRAL ALBANIA
Albania's low and fertile alluvial plains can be found along 121 miles of the coast of the Adriatic Sea and, at points, extending nearly 30 miles inland. This area is Albania’s most densely populated region and is dedicated mostly to the country’s agriculture and industrial industries.
Albania’s largest city and capital, Tirana, is located in this area, about 20 miles inland from the Adriatic Sea. With a total population of over 800,000 people, Tirana is the only city in Albania with a population greater than 500,000. As the country’s largest city, it is central to political, economic, cultural, and religious Albanian life and is home to many public institutions, universities, and museums dedicated to Albanian art and history.
DRAINAGE: THE DRIN AND OTHER RIVERS
Nearly all the precipitation that falls in Albania is drained via rivers leading to the coast. As such, most of the country’s rivers flow from the east to the sea in the west. The largest of these Albanian rivers is the Drin. Originating in Kosovo, the Drin stretches for about 175 miles through the northern, mountainous region of Albania. The Drin River is extremely important to Albania’s economy, especially energy production. Four hydropower facilities along the river’s course produce most of Albania’s electricity.
Other major river ways in Albania include the Seman, the Shkumbin, and the Vjosë. Each of these rivers drain the southern region of the country and are central to Albania’s agricultural production in the eastern portion of the country. Typically these rivers and the streams that flow into them are torrential in the winter while being nearly or completely dry in the summer, sometimes only carrying a tenth of their winter averages. These highly irregular and seasonal flow patterns limit the impact of these rivers and streams and make them and the surrounding lands almost unnavigable and nearly impossible to use for economic development.
Albania is also home to a number of lakes, the largest of which is Lake Scutari in English, or as it is known to Albanians, Lake Shkodër. Located in the Northwest portion of the country, only one-third of the lake is actually located in Albania, the rest residing in Montenegro. Other major lakes include Ohrid and Prespa along Albania’s eastern border with Macedonia. Ohrid, the largest of these two lakes, is famous for its unique flora and fauna; due to its ecological value, it is under the protection of UNESCO.